December 6, 2021

Good morning MindSite News Daily readers. In today’s newsletter, we’ll read about New York City’s bold move to open supervised injection sites for drug users, Canadian farmers seeking mental health support and how some Boston companies are boosting their employees’ mental health through mediation sessions made available to all via Zoom. Plus Discover magazine takes a scratch at a burning debate: what’s the diff between cat people and dog people?

New York City opens supervised injection sites as fentanyl-linked overdoses soar

During the 12 months that ended in April – the harshest of the pandemic – the deadly toll of substance use and addiction reached a record high: 100,000 overdose deaths. With fentanyl showing up in non-opioid drugs like cocaine and meth, the danger of using street drugs has soared, and advocates are reviving the harm-reduction debate. Experts across the fields of addiction, social work, psychiatry, and overdose prevention offered hard truths and some guidance in an excellent opinion piece in the New York Times newsletter Debatable.

Last week, New York City opened two officially authorized injection sites, the first in the nation. Drug users can obtain clean needles and naloxone (commonly called Narcan), which reverses opioid overdoses on the spot. The sites, which have trained medical staff to respond to overdoses and offer treatment options, offer one way to respond to the flood of fentanyl that hit the street-drug market at the same time that people were struggling with substance use and lost work, income and health insurance due to Covid-19.

While many countries have been shifting from a punitive approach to addiction, the U.S. has been slow to expand medications for addiction treatment (MAT, also called medication-assisted treatment). Abstinence-only approaches to drug addiction have been the focus of federal funding, but this year Congress appropriated funds for harm reduction measures — a historical first. “It’s an enormous signal, recognizing that not everybody who uses drugs is ready for treatment,” Daliah Heller, director of drug use initiatives at a global public health organization, told the Times. “Harm reduction programs say: ‘OK, you’re using drugs. How can we help you stay safe and healthy and alive first and foremost?’”

Stressed economically and emotionally, farmers warming to mental health services

Kim Moffat recognizes the double-edged sword of the economic shut-down caused by the pandemic. While farmers in her native Manitoba, Canada, had to weather a bad year, many also spoke to a therapist for the first time in their lives without having to take a day away from the farm, the Manitoba-based Brandon Sun reports. Moffat is a counselor whose specialty is creating access to mental health services for rural people. She worked for decades on the Farm Stress hotline, then migrated to Canada’s suicide prevention services before starting a private practice for farmers.

Farmers need to speak with someone who is familiar with farming culture and its particular daily stresses, Moffat said. Times are changing for the better within the culture itself, she says: “It’s unusual now that there will be a conference that doesn’t have some kind of mental health component to it.”

Each new Covid variant yields more waiting and worrying. We have evolution to thank

No matter how much of a worrywart you are, each new each mutation of the coronavirus provokes a new round of fretting and waiting, writes Andreas Kluth in an opinion piece for Bloomberg. As we stand by for information about how infectious and virulent the omicron variant is – and how it will behave in vaccinated or previously infected persons – Kluth observes the familiar psychological responses of life in the time of coronavirus. Different personalities cope with the Covid news cycle differently, but the anxiety response is an ancient, visceral one: gauging or preparing for danger engages our stress hormones. Kluth’s advice: Try to cope with the uncertainty by labeling what, exactly, we are worried about. The best bet, he says, is to use this “worry practice” to become more collectively self-aware — and maybe even laugh at ourselves.

Is there really a difference between cat people and dog people? Discover Magazine explores

Are you a cat person, or a dog person? Researchers (and writers of dating profiles) have toiled for decades trying to decipher what human personality traits pair with felines versus canines, and whether the famous rivalry between dog people and cat people is really a substitute for our equally famous rivalry between extroverts and introverts. But as with many areas of coffee-table psychological research, the means of gathering and testing data aren’t consistent or well-established. So, while plenty of anecdotal evidence has been submitted, the jury is still out about whether your pet preference says anything meaningful about your personality type.

Some companies looking out for their employees’ mental health

When working from home became the new normal, some companies stepped up their mental health game and continue to embrace the practices that seemed to lower stress among their employees. From company-wide days off to free therapy, several Boston-based businesses found that simple mental health efforts can make a big difference in morale, the Boston Globe reports. The return to the office shouldn’t mean a return to the bad old pre-pandemic days, say mental health-savvy managers. The end of the pandemic won’t mean an end to pandemic-era stress and all that was learned in working throughout a prolonged period of crisis. Routines to boost emotional health should continue to be embraced, say CEOs like Kip Hollister, who hosts a popular weekly guided meditation on Zoom (which she has now opened to the public).

College students rally for better mental health services

Chanting “Do better, be better, SCU,” students at Santa Clara University protested on campus, demanding that school mental health services improve and expand, the San Jose Mercury News reports. In recent months, three student deaths — two by suicide — have haunted the campus, while academic pressures continue. Organizers are asking for more counselors, specifically LGBTQ and therapists of color. After the rally, the president of the university’s board of trustees reportedly committed several million dollars to expand mental health resources.

Maryland lawsuit demands end to ‘cruel and unusual’ isolation practices in state prisons

Maryland prisons are subjecting mentally ill prisoners to cruel and unusual punishment by overusing solitary confinement and failing to provide minimum daily recreation and social services, a federal lawsuit alleges. The nonprofit Disability Rights of Maryland filed the suit on behalf of unnamed defendants, claiming one inmate with a mental health disorder was segregated for nearly a year before he received counseling or a psychiatric evaluation, the Baltimore Sun reports.

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. And if you’re a veteran, press 1.

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